Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Seattle and Olympic National Park


Fast elevator: the trip up takes about 45 seconds.
Turns out, it does not rain continuously in Northwest Washington state! We had eight sunny days at the end of August.

The Space Needle, built as the centerpiece for the 1962 World's Fair, is a must-see. The day we visited was crystal clear and the view from atop the 605 foot structure was spectacular, although Mount Rainier was not visible. Luckily, no swaying as it did during the Great Alaska Earthquake of 1964.
Great view

Great tour guide

We took an interesting tour of Seattle's Underground. We explored old sidewalks one story below the current ones. To make a long story short, Seattle's "ground" level was raised one story after a major fire in 1889. This was done to prevent flooding and sewer backups during high tide. Walking in this underworld, you can see the original first floor (now the basement) of several buildings and look up through skylights in the current sidewalks made of small pieces of glass.



It seems everyone visits the Pike Place Market. Even if you buy nothing, and it is nearly impossible not to, the people watching is outstanding.


The Japanese Garden

Washington Park provides access to Lake Washington and hosts a beautiful arboretum maintained by the University of Washington.
A friendly place

We spent an enjoyable hour or two at this old saloon at Pioneer Square on our last evening in town. Great bartenders. Also on our last night, we stayed at a hotel near Sea-Tac Airport, which is a distance from downtown Seattle.  We took the light rail from the airport to Chinatown.

That was a big tree
Olympic National Park

The temperate rain forest was a "bucket list" item, and it was nice to visit it on a sunny day! Unlike tropical rain forests, which consist mostly of deciduous trees, this forest is primarily coniferous: Sitka spruce, Douglas fir, western hemlock. A few glorious big leaf maples can also be found.

Almost tame

Why is there a rain forest? Because the mountains on the Olympic peninsula block the cold Canadian air sweeping down in the winter. Warm wet air comes up the coast from California.

We met this black-tailed deer on a spectacular hike at Hurricane Ridge.  Our presence was only a minor annoyance to him.

Mount Olympus, 7980 feet
Sea stacks, fog, and gray sand at La Push on the Pacific coast.

Hurricane Ridge was also our vantage point for viewing the several active glaciers near the summit of Mount Olympus. (Zeus does not reside here.)

A separate section of the National Park along the Pacific coast provides a mystical scene and cool temperatures. Signs warn of Tsunami danger.

Port Angeles and Port Townsend

View of Port Angeles

To visit the park, we stayed at the Quality Inn in Port Angeles, which is on top of a bluff giving a great view of downtown, the Strait of Juan de Fuca and Canada beyond. A staircase connects top and bottom right outside the hotel, which was convenient.

Lumber is king here. There is a constant stream of logging trucks in and out of town. There is also a ferry to the city of Victoria, Canada, just across the Strait, that leaves several times a day.

The Lake Crescent Lodge

We went swimming one day at Lake Crescent, an absolutely beautiful lake in the park, and had lunch at the Lake Crescent Lodge.

Port Townsend was our last port of call. It's a charming city with a lot of Victorian architecture. It's more upscale than Port Angeles, with a lot of shopping and restaurants on the waterfront. And be sure to visit Fort Worden Park, with its beach and lighthouse.

Port Townsend

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Las Vegas and Death Valley

We left Rhode Island on Southwest Air, an early morning flight to Chicago then on to Las Vegas. Both flights were packed, but arrived on time and with luggage.

The Las Vegas airport is not an experience to recommend. A walk plus tram ride to baggage claim, a huge place with hundreds of people trying to get their luggage. Then line up for a bus ride to the car rental building, line up again to see the person at the counter, who tries to get you to upgrade (no thanks) and tries to scare you into buying more insurance (again, no thanks).

View from the Bellagio Casino
Finally, in the car and riding down the Strip. It is Disney for adults- Egyptian pyramids, the Statue of Liberty and the Brooklyn Bridge, the Eiffel Tower and Arc de Triomphe, Rome, Venice complete with gondolas- it's crazy. We're staying at the Flamingo, right in the middle of the action. After parking in their garage, we check in. They want $30. for early check-in but will waive it if I get a rewards card, so I do. A good room on the 10th floor, facing the Strip, but don't expect little niceties like a coffeemaker. If you want to eat or drink, go downstairs to one of the many restaurants and bars.
We go out for a walk and food. Las Vegas has gotten huge since we were there last, nearly 20 years ago. Much more traffic, more people, crowds on the street like New York. We get a bite to eat and a beer at a sidewalk place and watch 2 gorgeous blonde girls who are dressed like cops, except with bikinis and platform boots along with the handcuffs, nightsticks and leather jackets. Everyone- well, every guy- wants to have their picture taken with them, and they're pulling in money like crazy. The waiter says they're there every day, so they must be doing pretty well.

In Las Vegas, you always feel like you're being hustled.  FYI- those "free" tickets to shows may well have one-drink minimums, and the half price "Tix4tonight" may be for general admission, not reserved seats, which could mean more standing in line.

Las Vegas is surrounded by mountains and has some fantastic scenery. The next day we head out to Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, which I highly recommend. You can just ride the 13 mile loop road, or stop and do some hikes.
Red Rock Canyon
We also visit Valley of Fire State Park, which I also recommend, about an hour's drive west of the city. On our way back to Las Vegas we drive through the Lake Mead National Recreation Area. Breathtaking, constantly changing desert scenery.

Hiking at Valley of Fire

We head out to Beatty, NV on the fourth day, where we're staying to visit Death Valley National Park.  The weather is great, in the 50's and 60's, sometimes sunny and sometimes overcast. Much better than New England in January. On our way there we stop at Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge. It's pretty amazing to see springs of water in the desert, and even more amazing to read about how the whole place almost became a housing development/ casino/golf course.
Crystal Spring at Ash Meadows

 We're staying at the Exchange Club Motel in Beatty, right on Main St. Across the street are the Sourdough Saloon, the Happy Burro, and KC's Outpost, all of which we patronize during our stay. The menus are limited but the people are very friendly.

After settling in, we drive 4 miles down the road to Rhyolite, a ghost town with an interesting story behind it. Lots of picture taking going on here!

Photographers in Rhyolite

The next day, Death Valley. We go to Furnace Creek, stop and hike up Golden Canyon, go to Badwater, and then do the Artists Palette Drive on the way back. Then on to Zabriskie Point and Dante's View, an amazing place to see a bird's eye view of the Valley. We tried to see the Natural Bridge, but the road was rough and we got nervous with our rental car, so we turned around. The park is young and  a number of roads are still unpaved.
Golden Canyon

Dante's View

We were told, one night at the Sourdough Saloon, that Titus Canyon is a must see. The turnoff is a few miles west of  Beatty, a one way road through the canyon that ends on Scotty's Castle Rd. Four wheel drive is recommended, and a local bartender told us that getting towed out of there will set you back $2000. Sadly, we decided to skip it, although there are jeep tours if you have the time.
From Death Valley we went to visit friends, then there was a long drive back to Las Vegas to fly home.